It’s a warm spring morning just outside Grand Canyon National Park and the line of cars at the South Rim Entrance is already backed up to the town of Tusayan. The AM radio broadcast warns drivers to expect a two-hour wait time before entry—a peaceful escape into the solitude of nature seeming less and less likely, and more and more ironic.
Over in Australia, a local council is urging tourists to avoid visiting the popular seaside town of Seal Rocks, surrounded by Myall Lakes National Park, as the congestion in summer creates constant gridlock for the local community.
From Yellowstone’s founding as the world’s first national park in 1872, countries around the world quickly followed suit in protecting natural areas by setting aside land in the pursuit of both conservation and recreation. Thanks to the post-pandemic desire for social distancing, increased exposure from social media, and the allure of an affordable holiday in an increasingly expensive world, national parks are busier than ever. And it’s often the most popular parks that are taking the biggest slice of the visitor pie. In the US, 26 percent of all visits occurred in only eight parks, while in Australia, NSW National Parks have experienced visitation numbers rising 47 percent in the last 10 years.
National parks are having a moment and visitor numbers are sky-high. But what does that mean for local residents, wildlife, visitors and the parks themselves?